Category Archives: Federalism

State’s Rights Movement – Dooming Democracy

Whew! That was a long debate last night, but I did not learn anything new about the Republican take on the issues. Eventually I want to talk about some of what was said. First, however, I want to tackle this topic of “state’s rights”. I have read the Constitution. I know that it says that any rights not designated to the Federal government belong to the states. I know that not many rights are assigned to the Federal government. Mostly the Federal government is granted military rights and rights necessary to keeping the government funded and functioning.

But the Constitution also describes Congress in some detail and it is made clear that it is the job of Congress to pass laws on behalf of the people so our forefathers obviously expected government to lay down an extended body of law. As a result there has been an enormous collection of laws and traditions which have collected over our 230+ years that adds essential detail to a very (and deliberately) sparse constitutional document.

What the Republicans want to do is scrap the body of law and tradition which has expanded the reach of the Federal government and they want to return to a strict adherence to the original wording in the Constitution. Republicans have talked about this for years – Federalism as in the Federalist papers wherein colonists (founders) argued endlessly about how much power should devolve to the Federal government and how much to the states. This is fairly esoteric stuff and it is possible that Republicans like to pontificate about Federalism to impress us with their superior intelligence. Most Americans that I have met do not sit around talking about Federalism or state’s rights. They may, however, complain about government interference in their daily lives as in the “nanny state,” which is where the Republicans, who seem to have all majored in Constitutional Law, connect with their base.

I don’t mind a continuing dialogue about state’s rights but I think we need to evaluate why Republicans are so strident and extreme on this subject right now. Of course, with eight years of a Democratic Presidency, Republicans are bound to be experiencing the political equivalent of “road rage.” They have never liked Obama and have painted him as weak in a never-ending stream of character assassination. So there is that. There is the worry that Democrats will raise taxes on the rich. If the Federal government gets smaller they won’t have to. So some of this is about protecting wealth. They will never forgive Obama for squeezing through the Affordable Care Act. Then there are the things he tried to do with immigration and the Dream Act which he passed through executive action. There was the red line which he walked back in Syria. There was Benghazi and the IRS. The Republican have measured out the Obama administration in mostly made-up scandals. The final blow to the GOP was the legalization of same sex marriage for which they blame the Supreme Court and, of course, Obama.

The list is long – they don’t like that Obama turned down Keystone. They don’t see how any human energy regulations on CO2 emissions can possibly help with climate change even if it is real. They don’t like Common Core and they blame its adoption on, guess who, Obama. There is nothing Republicans like about the past seven years.

It is small wonder that they are rabid to ditch the Federal government. They have been consolidating power in the states. They are going to find it difficult to elect a President because – small tent, although they probably will hold on to Congress, because – gerrymandering. If they can drown the Federal government in that proverbial bathtub they can do an end run around the Federal government and make their own state laws about things like education, energy, taxes, business regulations, marriage, and marijuana.

It is tempting to cut them loose and give them our blessings except that we are the United States of America, not the Loosely Affiliated States of America. If states have their own school rules, etc. we will soon look more like separate nations than separate states. The USA will look more like the EU. This would be a sad state of affairs and, although we might still be America, we will not be the USA.

Remember, some of these states have even encouraged militias in case they have to go to war against the Federal government. This is the point at which I see the current state’s rights movement as sedition. Didn’t we already have this war? We all recognize that the South and the North, the East and the West still have their differences, their special needs, and their unique points of view about key concerns, but we lose too much power, too much tradition and history, and too much gravitas in the world if we become divided into 50 separate states. This is not just nostalgia talking, extreme state’s rights would put an end to a Democratic experiment that our forefathers began and the entire world would be poorer for not having our governing example before them as an option. By selfishly insisting on having your way about small things, you chance removing hope that an organized, considered, and considerate society can indeed exist and survive.

By Nancy Brisson

Culling the Herd – Limited Government

So now we have seen it – we have seen some of the flaws in our Constitution and they are not ideological, they are structural. Our forefathers had a healthy dose of paranoia, but their paranoia was used to build protections into the Constitution to prevent a President from declaring himself King or herself Queen (an eventually they never imagined, of course). They did give a lot of thought to balance amongst the branches of our government, the executive, the legislative and the judicial by creating that system of checks and balances we all know so well. I don’t think they really imagined that some Americans would want to wrest control from within one branch of government, because they felt they had built in sufficient protections. They did not foresee 2013.

Apparently there are flaws in our system – flaws that nullify the checks and the balances. We’ve seen obstruction before, but not to this degree. We’ve seen incivility before, but again it is a matter of degree. There is apparently no part of the Constitution that protects the American people from losing control of our government to a small band of radicals, in this case radical but duly elected reactionaries. It is astonishing to me that these people have been pursuing strategies that seemed relatively harmless because they affected such small areas of the country and that they have been patching together a system that allows these very radicals to be elected over and over again without challenge. We have no safeguards against these tactics. They are subverting the election process. Once they are in Congress they do not need to do anything at all to keep their seats. If they don’t face the possibility of losing their seat based on how they vote in Congress they have found a way to bypass the Constitution and we, America, are in trouble.

I have always been proud that our forefathers thought through and wrote down a way to govern that was basically fair, (even more astonishing as they were elitist slave owners),  that was based on ideals that seemed enlightened and laudable, and that was structured to last and to still be usable hundreds of years later. What these radical Republicans are doing is threatening to end the usefulness of this document we have made the center of our governance. They are pointing out the flaws in our beloved Constitution. We have no way to rid ourselves of these people who are ruining our government in the name of Federalism. They have been very consistent in their beliefs. They want small government. They want deregulation. They want America to become the loose federation of states that they feel it was intended to be. They want all of the social safety net gone. They do not feel that the federal government should be in the business of lifting up the least fortunate Americans, even though all modern societies do this and even though it keeps misery at bay, both for a society and its people. They do not like any rules or regulations on energy use and against pulling fossil fuels out of the earth so they want the EPA gone. They want the Department of Commerce gone and they think the federal government should close the Department of Education. They see this as their moment in time to achieve their objectives to limit the size and scope of government. They hate the Affordable Care Act because it goes in the opposite direction from limited government. It makes government even bigger.

Most of us accept what Republicans are saying about the need to make government somewhat smaller, but I don’t think most of us want a federal government as small as these radical tea partiers do, or as small as the libertarians do. We will not be living up in the rarified air at the top of the affluence pyramid. We will be living down here with the sewage running in the streets and the begging children and the rampant disease. We will be drinking the polluted water. There are 7 billion people on this little planet. If you are trying to kill off a big percentage of the current population, hoping to do what nature does when an animal population gets too big, then you are pursuing the perfect strategy for it. Because to argue for smaller government when population numbers are ballooning will turn our cities into even bigger killing fields than they already are and, of course, you will not be affected up there at the top of the triangle.

If we make it through this assault on the government of our nation, the assault that is coming from within that very government, then we need to pass some laws which will allow us an escape route if some minority group decides to stage a coup again. I don’t think the issues here are as small as the media paints them. I think the issues are huge. I think these folks, mostly from the southern hinterlands of America are deadly serious. They own guns. They are hunters. I’m not saying that they are planning to turn their guns on us, although if it comes down to it they might some day in the future. I am saying that they think like hunters and they are planning to cull the herd, to get rid of those Americans who can’t or won’t provide for themselves. Every society has poor people. Every society has disabled people. Every society, in 2013, does not want to force unfortunate souls into pits to fight for their lives. We definitely need a way to ditch elected officials if they try to stop government. If the majority can prevail over this small, but determined, minority, we will need to amend our Constitution. Which America will we be when this is all over?

This is the view from the cheap seats.

This blog post is also available at

Mitt Romney and Our Safety Net

Mitt Romney is a Federalist, big surprise. He believes, as do all Republicans, that the Federal government is too “big”. He believes that all the things the Republicans have labeled “entitlements” should be discontinued by the Federal government. Republicans have a habit of making entitlements sound as if they are negative; as if we are destroying our initiative by taking part in these programs funded by our own money. Republicans say the monies collected should be given to the States and the States should decide how to handle our safety net, each within their own State.
These guys sound very reasonable when they say things like this and they lead us to believe our forefathers would be happy long-haired bobble-heads if these changes were made. Our forefathers would actually, I am sure, be so overwhelmed their heads might well burst, even though they were very smart guys. Our population is so much larger and our problems so much more complex, I’m not sure they would agree with the GOP even if they could wrap their brains around the issues.
When the States decide the criteria for programs on their own there is no uniformity from state to state. One state can chose to ignore Medicaid, or Social Security or perhaps all of the social programs. Another state can install a stellar set of programs, envied by all. People will start moving to the state with the great programs. What would stop them? Stern residency requirements might do the trick but if the differences were great, probably not. Services like this require some consistency which cannot be provided by the States, but must fall to the Federal government.

We pay the greater share of our taxes to the Federal government. Will we continue to pay the Federal government the bigger tax sum and trust that they will send the appropriate amounts to the States. It sure would be tempting to dip into these funds and “earmark” them for other things. Given this situation I would think we would be smarter to just pay the States directly for these programs, once given some assurances that our money would be disbursed as promised. As for the Federal government; smaller government, smaller budget.
Every day, to my ears, it sounds like our Congress thinks of our money as theirs. They act like they have lots of freedom about how to spend our money. But in this government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” the money we send to Washington is ours. We decide how we want it spent and “therein lies the rub”. We are about equally divided about what we want to do with our government and our money. And while we are undecided some of our Congress people have been happily dividing the spoils. If we have the States set up and administer our safety nets, some of us will end up with very holey nets, and some with perhaps no net at all. Even when these guys sound so terribly logical; they are not.